This legislation has been drafted to clarify the process for appeals of zoning decisions and disputes following some judicial decisions in recent years.
Recently, the Georgia Supreme Court held that local ordinances could not create a means of appeal to the superior court if such was not authorized by statute and that quasi-judicial decisions of zoning boards could only be appealed by certiorari even if such was not articulated in a local ordinance. Appeals by certiorari would be based on the record presented meaning that both the zoning applicant/complainant and the local government would have to make their case in court based on the evidence presented to the local government. This means the applicant/complainant and the local government would likely have to utilize expert witnesses at the local government level for all of these zoning decisions in the event they are appealed and they need a record of why they made the decision they made.
This legislation would allow for local governments to provide by ordinance or resolution those officers, boards, or agencies that should exercise delegated quasi-judicial zoning powers and to establish procedures and notice requirements for hearing before such quasi-judicial officers, boards, or agencies. These quasi-judicial officers, boards, and agencies would have the power to hear appeals from administrative decisions and hear and render decisions on applications for variances, special administrative permits, special exemptions, conditional use permits, and other similar permits, which would not be zoning decisions, as such term is defined in the code.
Any local government delegating decision-making powers to a quasi-judicial officer, board, or agency would be required to provide for a hearing on each proposed action with a notice sent at least 30 days' prior. Such local governments would also be allowed to adopt specific standards and criteria governing such quasi-judicial decision-making authority.
Finally, this legislation clarifies the appeals process by the superior court by providing that zoning decisions would be subject to direct constitutional challenge regarding the validity of maintaining the existing zoning, the validity of conditions, or an interim zoning category other than what was requested in the superior court. Such challenges would be by way of de novo review in the superior court but would require the entire record from the local government to be brought up, with all competent evidence being admissible. Additionally, a presumption that a governmental zoning decision is valid would substantively be able to be overcome when there is clear and convincing evidence that ths zoning classification is a siginficant detriment to the petitioner and not related to public health, safety, morality, or the general welfare.
Quasi-judicial decisions would be subject to appellate review in the superior court and could only be brought by petition for certiorari. Those quasi-judicial decisions would be reviewed and based on the record. The legislation would set a deadline of 30 days to bring any challenges and would also require that local governments designate the quasi-judicial officer, board, or agency upon whom service could be effected and the elected official or designee who service can be effected.
The Senate, through a floor amendment, added language establishing a new rezoning process in the instance that a city revise existing single-family residentially zoned properties to allow for multi-family uses. This language allows a city wish to adopt such zoning changes, but a municipality would first need to:
(1) Adopt such decision through two public meetings during a period of not less than 21 days apart;
(2) Prior to such public meetings, hold two public hearings specific to the proposed changes within 3-9 months of any final zoning decision, and at least one must occur between 5PM-8PM;
(3) Post details of zoning change on any impacted properties, and posting every 500 ft in cases of where over 500 parcels are affected, as well as publish hearing information in the local newspaper 15-45 days prior detailing the changes would allow property owners to not comply with single-family residential zoning requirements; and
(4) Provide language of proposed amendment at no cost to any individual requesting the information.
(5) These provisions apply to both altering single-family zoning and abolishing single-family zoning requirements for the purposes of authorizing multi-family zoning standards on the same properties.
These newly added provisions would not apply to any property owner or authorized person seeking the rezoning to multifamily from the local government.